It was twenty-three and a half seconds past midnight at the Ravenswood Bar, and the evening was just getting started. The bartender was polishing glasses, steady eyes on the groups of patrons in one corner or the other. The night crowd liked to talk more than drink, and that was just fine for Frederick. In fact, it was precisely why he volunteered for the night shift. Regularly. He would even steal the shift from his coworkers, already at his post at 10pm when the bar opened, to the open mouthed stare of whichever unlucky new hire was jokingly given the night shift. He would fix them with a beady stare, and they had the choice to either share the bar with him or order a drink.
They almost always ordered a drink.
The others, well… they quit on the spot. Those were good evenings. The Ravenswood Bar was no place for cowards. Or people who didn’t understand their place.
Perhaps it was Frederick’s gruff demeanor that drove the fainter hearted new workers away. It could have been because he was always immaculately dressed in a full suit that never seemed to hold a stain or a wrinkle. Maybe it was his command of the room, the way the patrons knew him and how easy it was to put a stop to any disagreements among friends.
It was probably because he was a fucking bird, though.
And no one thought to tell them that before they walked into the bar for their first shift at this respected establishment. Frederick had the magnificent head of a raven, complete with jet black feathers and glittering eyes, and that scared the shit out of people who didn’t know better. His wings were folded neatly behind his back, and his hands were gloved at all times to keep his talons clean.
“What?” he would always ask when he would catch anyone gaping, secretly delighted when the offender in question would balk at his perfect command of human speech, as if they expected he would be able to hold a proper job without the command of multiple languages. “It’s not called the Ravenswood Bar for nothing.”
And then they believed he owned the place, which could have been the truth but definitely wasn’t. He felt like he owned it sometimes, though, but only past midnight. This was his kingdom, and he ruled over the domain with an iron fist and a stiff drink. The bar operated on a special kind of chaos that couldn’t be bottled. All sorts of beings darkened these barstools: dealers in forbidden magics, portal-hoppers, potion makers, loose prisoners, the organizers of the next political uprising, seekers of eternal youth, people who drank nothing but black coffee and expected to find it at a bar… the list was endless.
Sure, there were some shitty customers who thought that being nefarious meant causing a ruckus, and they were properly dealt with (there was a jar of bones on the bar with the apt label, “bones of shitty customers” and, if anyone who saw it had a poor imagination, a sign above the display of various bottled spirits warned that “problem customers will be beheaded and eaten”), and for the most part everything operated smoothly. He even had favorite customers who turned into regulars who turned into friends. And one such friend tapped the bar to order another drink. A bare fist belonging to a figure shrouded in fog slid the empty glass over for Frederick to fill with another round of aged, thrice distilled ghost tree sap the color of pearls.
Mx. Brouillard was perhaps one of the dearest of Frederick’s regulars, and always had the best stories to tell. It was especially nice whenever they decided to show up because others tended to avoid the bar, the fog a cold deterrent that few dared brave.
The front door opened and shut, and the whole bar descended into a darkness so pure and thick that it felt like home. The regulars groaned in annoyance, the newer patrons silent and watchful. Frederick could taste their fear on the air. Now, if he could distill that, he could do amazing things…
“Little Star, please,” murmured a smooth voice from the nearest barstool. “We all know you shall shine the brightest one day.”
The lights returned to their rightful places, but the bar felt a little colder for it.
A woman with long, purple hair adorned with stars walked in, a smile on her lips, as she shed her coat made of darkness and stardust. “Hello, darling,” she greeted, sitting down at the bar. The fog dissipated and she turned to Mx. Brouillard. “Ah, there you are.”
They shared a kiss, cloud meeting starlight, each canceling the other out, one repelling the other so that only a faint flutter was all that was felt, and the woman crowned in nebulae pulled away with a satisfied smile.
Mx. Brouillard sighed. “Must you always do that?”
“I can’t let you get too comfortable,” she returned. A comet flashed across her lips.
“You should be careful about that,” the figure cloaked in fog warned, rubbing a finger over her lip as if wiping away a stray bit of chocolate. “You’ll be lost to the heavens, and then what will I do?”
“Ah, yes, like my mother before me,” she replied, a galaxy swirling over her shoulder. “She is a swan, but when I retake my place in the sky, and they tell stories of me, I will be a storm.”
Mx. Brouillard pressed a finger into the center of the galaxy currently taking up residence on her shoulder, making the woman’s back arch and her mouth fall open, the comet long gone. “You already are.”
“And it will be to spite you, you wretched being,” she retorted, shrugging out of reach. “The black hole is sensitive, you know.”
“I can see that.” A pause. “Does it hurt?”
“To keep it from devouring my best friend, the idiot? A little.”
“Little Star, really? I had no idea.”
She laughed. “No, silly. It’s a tattoo. It just rotates, nothing else. My girlfriend did it for me last week. The little pixie, you remember her? Sometimes she dances along the spiral edges and it feels divine.”
“What’ll it be, Little Star?” Frederick cut in, smiling at their usual banter.
“Oh, I’ll have whatever they’re having,” she said, pointing a thumb at Mx. Brouillard.
“It’s more of a he kind of day, actually.”
She nodded. “I’ll have whatever he’s having,” she corrected.
“Ghost tree sap, our finest. It’ll cost you,” Frederick warned.
“You owe me for the last lunar eclipse,” Little Star reminded him with a glittering smile.
“What lunar eclipse?” he asked.
Mx. Brouillard laughed as Frederick tilted his head to the side, a singularly birdlike gesture. “Oh, don’t you remember your bet, Frederick?” he asked. “She did it, she stopped the eclipse.”
Frederick’s eyes widened. “Was that this week already?”
Little Star grinned and raised her hand out expectantly. “That’s right. Time to pay up, darling.”
He sighed and begrudgingly poured her a drink and placed it in her waiting hand. As he did so, a patron waved him down from the safety of the other side of the facility. “Hey, worm food!” the man called, obviously drunk. “Anoth’r round!”
Frederick’s hand tightened on the neck of the bottle but he otherwise didn’t react. The whole bar fell silent.
“Hey.” More insistently. “Drinks. Now.” The tone turned dark, intimidating. A new regular trying to make a name for himself.
Frederick tsked in annoyance, which was more of a chirp, wiping the bar down and pretending not to notice.
And then, “I bet it’s got a brain in there somewhere.”
Everyone turned to look at either the drunken fool or the bartender. Hardly anyone dared breathe.
Little Star put down her drink. “It’s my turn, isn’t it Frederick?”
Frederick put a gloved hand on her shoulder to keep her from getting up from her seat, eyes fixed, unblinking, on the man in the corner. “Don’t exert yourself, my friend. It’s time for my break. I got this one. After all, my mother was a known consort of a raven king. And one must make one’s appearances.”
And he slowly came around from behind the bar, wings twitching in barely contained annoyance. He walked lithely toward the man whose face was starting to lose its color. He extended a hand, curling his fingers in a beckoning motion. “Why don’t you come up to the bar and place your order like everyone else. And pay. Upfront.”
Silence. He narrowed his eyes. “Or, rather, you can go out back with me and I can tell you in intimate detail just how very busy I am.”
Still no reaction. He had to admit, this man had some nerve. It was too bad he had decided to use it in such a negative manner. “Very well.” He grabbed the man by the shirt collar and dragged him forcefully outside, and only then did he begin to protest. Instead of slamming the door, Frederick opted to join the man out in the chilly night to make sure the message truly sank in, not content to simply kick him out.
With great caution, the bar came back to life, with Mx. Brouillard and Little Star throwing furtive glances out the back door to await Frederick’s return.
“So,” Mx. Brouillard began, “I have an idea for you.”
“Ooh, delicious. It just so happens that I have a business proposition for you.”
“I can’t wait to hear it.”
Frederick returned moments later, putting his gloves back on. He took up his post behind the bar and watched the patrons definitely not watching him. His friends grinned as he loudly deposited a handful of bones into the jar and rattled them around for good measure, just to make sure everyone understood just who was the king of the night at this bar. For he was the descendant of a faraway raven king, and he would one day return to his rightful place.
|© 2018 Michelle Robins|